Northrop says U.S. Air Force picked right team for bomber contract

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Northrop Grumman Corp said on Saturday that it won a U.S. Air Force contract to build a new long-range bomber after a very thorough selection process and it argued that a new legal brief filed by Boeing Co had no merit.

Boeing and Lockheed Martin Corp on Friday said they would continue their protest against the Northrop contract, which is worth about $80 billion, calling the Air Force’s acquisition process “irreparably flawed”.

The losing bidders issued a joint statement saying that they had filed a 133-page brief with the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) in response to the Air Force’s filing in the protest, which was first submitted last month.

Northrop beat out the Boeing-Lockheed team to win the contract in October, but has had to stop working on the initial $21.4 billion development contract until GAO issues a ruling, which is due by Feb. 16.

Northrop said it also filed comments with the GAO, supporting the Air Force’s handling of the decision. The move came after the Air Force’s response to the protest.

No comment was immediately available from the Air Force.

“We are now even more confident that the Air Force followed an extraordinarily thorough and careful selection process and picked the right team in Northrop Grumman,” Northrop spokesman Randy Belote said. He did not elaborate.

He said Boeing’s decision to file an additional brief with the GAO was “a routine step, particularly at this stage in a protest, and not in any way indicative of a meritorious protest.”

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James last month said the Air Force followed a “very deliberate process” in awarding the contract to Northrop, and stood by its decision.

Boeing and Lockheed could still decide to take their protest to federal court, as Lockheed did this week in its challenge to the Army’s $6.75 billion contract award for next-generation Humvees to Oshkosh Corp.

Lockheed said it took the step in that case after the GAO declined to extend its review to consider additional evidence, but GAO said the company did not submit the necessary supplemental protest requesting the extension.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by David Clarke and Stephen Powell